Discover Florence’s Hidden Depths: Exploring Ancient Prisons Beneath Piazza della Signoria Tours

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A journey to discover a hidden Florence, less trodden by mainstream tourist circuits. A journey to uncover what lies beneath the surface of the city of the lily. Today, we will explore the places of Florentine justice of yesteryears, the dark dungeons where the condemned were imprisoned. And listen up… you can visit them too! How? Find out by reading the article!

An underground and dark world beneath Piazza della Signoria

We know and appreciate Florence for the perfection of the masterpieces scattered along the streets of the historic center and its enchanting surroundings, even up to the hills of Fiesole. However, few know about its underground, which is as fascinating as what we admire above the Florentine ground: beneath Palazzo Vecchio lies a “dark” Florence, a world kept hidden for a long time that takes us back about 2000 years, to Roman Florentia, a small colony north of the eternal city.

The ancient Florentine prisons

Under the Palazzo della Signoria, the archaeological remains of the Roman Theater are preserved, a place where the inhabitants of Florentia gathered to watch performances. These narrow passages were devoid of light and were used by the Romans for the training of gladiators and to house ferocious beasts in cages. In this place, once synonymous with entertainment for the free citizens of the Roman colony, the Burelle are still visible today – from the Latin “darkness” – the oldest prisons in the city, born from the ashes of the old Roman theater that no longer existed in the Middle Ages.
Cramped, humid, and dark environments, located tens of meters below the ground and sunlight, which served to imprison and torture the condemned, especially around the 13th century.
For many years, the Burelle were almost forgotten by the city of Florence. These prisons, dark and mysterious, bore witness to a continuous struggle for the survival of prisoners and the condemned, offering us a glimpse of complex and difficult but also new and fascinating life of Florence’s rich historical heritage. Some remains began to emerge in the second half of the 19th century during urban development works that coincided with the relocation of Italy’s capital from Turin to Florence. However, it was from 2004 to 2010 that excavations brought to light much of the underground used first for the Roman Theater and then for the Burelle.

Illustrious literary quotations

Even Dante in his famous Divine Comedy uses the term “Burella” in the XXXIV Canto of the Inferno (vv. 98-99), “natural burella/ ch’avea mal suolo e di lume disagio” (“natural dungeon/ which had bad soil and discomfort of light”).

A vibrant visit – Useful information

This somewhat unusual and mysterious aspect of Florence captures hundreds of history and archaeology enthusiasts. Since 2010, it has been possible to visit the excavations. The MUS.E Association organizes guided tours and educational activities by appointment. Guided tours of the excavations of the Roman Theater under Palazzo Vecchio in Florence are organized on Mondays, Saturdays, and Sundays, for a maximum of 20 participants.
The underground tours last 45 minutes and cost an additional 2 euros compared to the ticket for Palazzo Vecchio (which currently costs 10 euros). The cost for a guided tour of the Roman theater excavations is respectively 12 euros for the full ticket, 2 euros for children aged 8 to 18, and 10 euros for youths aged 18 to 25 and seniors over 65.